Monthly Archives: September 2017

Talk at the Wordsworth Summer Conference

For my third and final conference this summer, I gave a talk entitled “Nature as Theophany: Considering Eriugena’s Influence on Coleridge’s Imagination.” 

My paper emphasized an important connection between Coleridge’s imagination and Johannes Scotus Eriugena. In March 1810, Coleridge records in his notebook an early sketch of what would later be published in the Biographia Literaria. He writes, “I wish very much to investigate the connections of the Imagination with the Bildungstrieb—Imagiatio = imitation vel repititio Imaginis—Per motum? Ergo, et motuum—The Variolae—generation—Is not there a link between physical Imitation & Imagination?”” (CN III Entry 3744). The formula is a condensed reflection on imagination and imaginative repetition, and in context, we can read Coleridge’s “primary Imagination,” the “repetition in the infinite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM,” as a more developed  elaboration of Eriugena’s concept of theophany, and the human mind as something that is created and creates. By the year this entry had been written, seven years before the publication of the Biographia Literaria, Coleridge was already exploring Eriugena’s understanding of nature in relation to imagination. In addition, this paper focused on the implications of Coleridge’s understanding of the natural world in relation to Eriugena’s pantheistic theophany, and how Coleridge reconciled this to Christian orthodoxy with  his theory of imagination in the Biographia. I also examined how his relation to Eriugena developed over the three stages of Coleridge’s life ,as described by Thomas McFarland: his early and poetic intuitions that the phenomenal world and the spirit are interconnected, his middle years of searching for a philosophical system that united and expressed the unity of these two worlds, and his final years in which he relies more on systems religious orthodoxy.


The conference took place at Rydal Hall in the Lake District. The hall, once owned by Wordsworth’s landlady, Lady Le Fleming, stands near the house where Wordsworth had lived since 1813 to his death in 1850. We were tucked away in the Cumbrian mountains for two weeks, spending the days immersed in “Wordsworthshire,” attending talks, hiking the mountains, and getting to know the community of Romantic scholars. Here are some photos of the countryside from some hikes. 

“The Grot” on the grounds of Rydal Mount. The falls were mentioned in Wordsworth’s “An Evening Walk.”

View of Lake Windermere from the top of Nab Scar

Resting along our hike up Mt. Faraday

Hiking over St. Sunday Crag

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Talk at the Romanticism Association Conference in Strasbourg, France

I was thrilled to be apart of the 2017 Romanticism Association Conference in Strasbourg, France and to speak about Novalis’s poetry this summer! The RA conference followed a week after the MacDonald Society Conference in Aberdeen, so I  had just enough time to visit the Peterborough Library Archives to peruse the original mss of John Clare’s bird nest poems before taking the train to France.

It was an honor to meet three of the Coleridge scholars whose scholarship guided my first foray into Coleridge’s poetry and his German influence: Richard Berkeley, Frederick Burwick, and Nicholas Reid. Dr. Berkeley is the founder of the Romanticism Association, and his Coleridge and the Crisis of Reason (2007) provides an insightful look at Coleridge’s crisis of reason in context with the Romantic pantheism controversy. Dr. Burwick is an English professor of UCLA, and his Drama: Critical Theory of the Enlightenment and Romantic Era (1991) is a pioneering look into the often-neglected drama of the Romantic Era. His keynote address (which was delightfully entertaining and informative) examined the monsters of the Romantic stage. Dr. Reid’s Coleridge, Form and Symbol (2006) examines the role of Coleridge’s theories on the imagination and symbol influence his metaphysics. I highly recommend his elucidating chapter on Schelling’s philosophy to anyone examining the intersections of Coleridge and German idealism.

The conference was held at the beautiful Église du Temple-Neuf de Strasbourg, in the Espace Tauler. The theme was “Supernatural Romanticism,” and the program promised (and delivered!) a fascinating and diverse group of speakers.

Check out the conference gallery on the Romanticism Association website!

Below is the description for my talk on apophatic theology and Novalis’s poetry.

In 1797, after the death of his fiancé and closest brother, Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg) formally broke from Fichtean Idealism by uniting philosophy and poetry and developing an apophatic approach which shifted the emphasis from intellect to experience. His Hymnen an die Nacht (1800) uses poetic and apophatic language to describe a supernatural encounter with both the night and the spirit of his departed bride. In laying the groundwork for systems of knowledge, Novalis had discovered within Fichte’s Idealism an ineffable element. I will examine how this element implies, in part, a denial of kataphatic knowledge similar to Kant’s claim in Kritik der reinen Vernunft: “I had to minimize knowledge to make room for faith.” Echoing Kant in his own way, Novalis wrote, “Spinoza ascended to Nature, Fichte to the Ego, and I ascend to the thesis, God.” This paper will examine Novalis’s “ascension to God” in context with his formal, philosophical break from Fichte and will explore the elements of apophaticism used to shape his expression of “der heiligen, unaussprechlichen, geheimniβvollen Nacht” [the holy, inexpressible, mysterious night] within his Hymnen and die Nacht.

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George MacDonald Conference 2017 (University of Aberdeen)

George MacDonald

Sometimes referred to as the father of modern fantasy, George MacDonald was a prolific author who published fairytales, novels, poetry, works of theology and literary criticism. His friends included Lewis Carrol, John Ruskin, F.D. Maurice, Lady Byron, William Cowper-Temple, and several others, including those made during his US tour (1872-3), such as Mark Twain, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Charles Dudley Warner, and others. His literary influence extends even further to authors such as G.K. Chesterton, T.S. Eliot, Madeleine L’Engle, W.H. Auden, Charles William, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis.

Considering his enormous impact on literature, it’s amazing how little attention MacDonald has received in the past century. This was one of the topics scholars came to the University of Aberdeen (MacDonald’s alma mater) to discuss at the latest George MacDonald Conference. From July 17th – 21st, attendees from all over the world—the UK, the USA, Canada, Taiwan, Australia, Sweden, Russia—came together to celebrate and promote further

“MacDonald and the Scottish Faerie-Faith: Places, Landscape, and Overlay in MacDonald’s Otherworlds”

scholarship on MacDonald and his works.

The conference was themed “MacDonald’s Scotland,” and the speakers discussed his writings in relation to his native roots. Check out the MacDonald Society Blog for my report on the conference trip to Huntley and conference reports from Sharin Shroeder (Taipei) and Caroline LaPlue (Aberystwyth). 

My conference talk focused on MacDonald’s use of “Fairy land” in his novel Phantastes and the “region of seven dimensions” in Lilith to examine the ways in which MacDonald draws from Scottish faerie-faith. In both novels, the two protagonists, Anodos and Mr. Vane, enter otherworlds and undergo a conversion before returning to the normal world. Acknowledging this trope in literature, Northrop Frye, in The Anatomy of Criticism, calls this comedic device the “green world” and traces it to Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen and some of Shakespeare’s plays (like The Winter’s Tale and Midsummer Night’s Dream), in which “the action of the comedy begins in a world represented as a normal world, moves into the green world, goes into a metamorphosis there in which the comic resolution is achieved, and returns to the normal world.” My thesis and project advisor at Bucknell, Alfred Siewers, traces this even further to Celtic mythology such as Immram Brain and the mythological cycle Tochmarc Étaíne (see “The Green Otherworld of Medieval Literature” in The Cambridge Companion to Literature and the Environment)My talk attempts to shift the focus from MacDonald’s German influence to his native roots of Scotland to examine how landscape in MacDonald’s works functions under a Scottish, Christian-comedic context.


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